It was a dark night …
… of my soul, if not behind the cascading crests of cloud-waves in the azure Midwestern sky above Leon’s office in the Old Town section of a nondescript Missouri suburb.
Like so many settlements across the creeping American frontier Blue Springs won its name from the prosaic imaginations of Scots-Irish Virginians. By virtue of sitting aside a spring. That was blue.
In the early decades of the 19th Century that particular hue had already lent its name to both the Blue River and the Little Blue River in this neck of the fledgling United States’ woods. Once the cluster of farms surrounding the Burrus family’s grist mill/general store adopted the name, other new spring-straddling towns had to dig deeper into their imagination for names.
Once I noticed it was obvious how many settlements reference bodies of water in their names. Accessible, potable water was a more valuable resource than gold or beaver to both farmers and travelers.
Leon gulped down a long drink of water with a deep sigh. He indicated the window fan.
“I know. AC’s out. AC was out last year. It’s old.”
“The fans lend a Noir ambiance,” I noted.
“Ambiance my furry black butt. It’s hot in here.”
I said nothing. I really had no time to say anything. He was pacing back and forth between the front door and the back.
“Time to check the streets of your City?” I asked him.
“Want to walk my beat with me?” he asked. He practically leapt for the doorknob. I could hear it in his voice. Wanna go for a walk? Wanna go for a walk? Huh?
He didn’t say it. But I could see it in his eyes.
“Sure. I’ll go out with you.”
He led the way, waiting at the top of the porch steps for me to close the office door shut behind us.
I followed him down the steps.
He headed to my car, he checked the hood, checked the tires, checked the handles on the front and back doors, checked the fuel door. He looked at me, assuring me all was good.
He’s so silly sometimes.
“Follow me.” He studied the driveway, then looked back toward his office.
His office is in one of the single-story houses that had sprung up on the side streets of the neat grid branching out from Main Street in the post-War Boom of jobs and education and squalling babies born six moons after the honey one.
Okay—Leon’s office is our house. So? Charlie Brown indulged his dog’s fantasies. It doesn’t make me a bad parent.
Leon is the 6-year-old Husky mix whom I have raised since I could hold him in one hand. The stork brought him. Well. He was abandoned in a straw basket on my doorstep. Well. The first time the last Mrs. Matzeder moved out of our shared home she got him from some guy out of a pick-up truck in a Walmart parking lot. I shit you not.
She took the puppy home and named Leon after Leon Sumbitches, a character in a Chris Onstad online comic. I think she has a bad habit of adopting cute foundlings and then finding them more than she bargained for. She brought him over one night for me to watch while she was at work. And we’ve been together since.
I changed his last name because … what do I know from Achewood? My vet calls him “Leon Matzeder” which vexes me, because that’s not his name.
The house where Leon and I live is small by today’s standards: only 700 square feet, including the garage that was somebody’s afterthought. When it was built in the late 1940s the aforementioned Boom had yet to coalesce into the galaxies of goods, appliances, and modern-conveniences with which young cash-flush couples could clutter these homes. So 700 square feet must have seemed luxurious.
The house has seen better days. I call it rustic. If I were half the handyman whom I have told every woman I ever married I was not, well … if anything would have been different, everything would have been different.
Leon snaps me from my reverie with a jerk of his head toward the street. He stops again where the driveway spills into the street. He spends several minutes in meticulous investigation.
The neighborhood, as I say, is about 70 years old. There are homes around here much older. The real Old Town reveals itself from time to time as one of the multi-level Victorian mansions appears through the thick canopy of leaves sprouting from trees planted when these homes were new Trophies of the Gilded Age.
Those Victorians are not the earliest archeological layer in my neighborhood. There are graves nearby nearly two hundred years old.
Strange what one considers old. Here I am calling 200-year-old evidence of European incursion old for this area. (And readily admit I am looking through a filter both European and historical—that is, during a time of writing—because it is a useful tool, not because I am unaware that generations of non-European peoples traveled through and settled in this area.) I grew up near Jamestown Island, in Virginia. You can’t get much older than that in English America, and it only turns the pages back another two centuries. Sites in Europe go back thousands of years. Jericho is 13,000 years old. Old is relative.
Not far from the two hundred year old graves is a patch of land the city has designated Burris Old Mill Park. It is close to where the eponymous spring burbled from a hillside on its way to the Little Blue River. The original gristmill was supposedly nearby. If so, I can’t find any evidence of it. Two centuries has altered the terrain.
None of that is on Leon’s beat.
From that point Walnut Street runs east-west. Several of those Victorian homes which arose at the turn of the 20th Century border Walnut Street, which takes its name from the trees one of the early settlers from Virginia’s Appalachians planted here. The maps gridded streets now cut through what must have once been the estates of these homes, sold to developers when the original owners died and their children preferred lucre to returning to Jackson Country, Missouri.
Today some of the homes built along those streets still shelter their original occupants. Fewer and fewer of them. The others, perhaps, are being sold by children … Several homes in the neighborhood have been converted to duplexes and are rentals. There are always new neighbors. Always new dogs. Consequently Leon is quick to tag his turf.
There is a specific territory Leon considers his beat. I realized this as he strolled, with little or no prompting from me, the same streets we always stroll. It’s an area maybe ten square blocks.
Before we began he halted at the edge of my driveway and checked, scrutinized, investigated whether any interlopers had dared to believe it might jump Leon’s claim.
That’s when I realized he was a doggie detective. His CSI kit is all in his muzzle, where his olfactory system is 100,000 times more sensitive than mine.
Considering my own sense of smell his is probably 200,000 times as powerful.
What is an odor but a packet of molecules in gaseous form? And from sampling it, comparing it with others, cross-referencing it with others in his memory bank he infers reams of information I will never grasp. That is when I realized he was a detective.
What is the Universe but packets of molecules? Collections of positive and negative charges, really. 1s and 0s. +s and –s. Leon experiences them differently than I do. He collects the universe through his nose and through eyes that have a different cone/rod arrangement than my own. It is the same universe, my the data interpreted through binocular vision is not the same as through olfactory nerves.
I followed Leon as he checked out all his usual spots, all the usual suspects.
I realized this is likely why he always finds his way home whenever he slips his restraints and runs wild for a time. He tags his turf. He knows his territory. I followed him as he made sure all was right with his world.
Then we headed home.
He cut a dashing figure: Leon Trotsky, Doggy Detective. He strutted along, not a care in the world. This was his beat. He was the Lord of all he surveyed. He was unaware of how his inflated ego contrasted with the image of the man, walking behind him, carrying a bag of his poop.